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What did you do in the War, Charlie?
by Charlie Shaw

In l938 there was a war scare and a number of we Parish Church Scouts (the 16th Doncaster) called at the Police Station to enlist as cycle messengers in the ARP (Air Raid Precautions).
The war scare did not materialise.
In l939 war was imminent so we signed on again at the Police Station.
We then had a meeting and lectures over duties as cycle and foot messengers.
We were given a meeting room in a house on Adwick Road, which had been the manager house adjacent to the Co-op Stores and Co-op Butcher (which is now a Newsagent & food store).
We held weekly meetings and lectures on air raids – gas precautions and the effects of gas (mustard and phosgene – these are the ones I remember).
We were allocated to warden posts, which were located in various places of Mexborough, plus gas decontaminant units, ambulance depots, report centres.
We had to learn where all these places were to be able to take messages in case the telephones were out of order.
We had to go on standby duty one evening a week to learn the way they operated.
At intervals we had mock air raids to practice our skills in taking messages and finding the destination in the dark, as there was a complete blackout.
No lights to be shown from any building, no street lamps.
You could only use torches with 1” diameter glass and you had only to shine them forwards.
Cars and motorcycles had to have headlights covered with masks, a metal cylinder about 5” in diameter and 3” deep with slits about ˝” wide, there was approximately 4 to each cylinder with louvers to direct the light downwards.
When the air raid siren sounded we all had to go to our allocated places.
My place was Castle Hills House, a shed in the garden.
It had: chairs; tables; a stove in the middle with a chimney up through the roof; a kettle; a teapot; mugs and biscuits; which we were only allowed after about two hours on duty.
(1 biscuit and 1 cup of tea).
About l942 we had one Dispatch Rider and one Sunbeam Motorcycle model 90 stationed, with the young ladies, at the Ambulance Centre within the old Cosy Cinema on Garden Street.
At that time it still had its stage which I found out later was fitted with a full size snooker table.
I transferred to be a Dispatch Rider.
We had our headquarters in Netherhall, Doncaster and held meetings and lectures every Wednesday night and practice exercises every Sunday morning.
This comprised motorcycle riding in formation, doing convoy duties and riding over rough ground to gain experience for bomb sites.
I remember one major exercise, which started at midnight on Saturday from Goldthorpe with a large number of vehicles (ambulances, decontaminant unit, mobile canteens, fire crews etc).
We had to take the convoy by the back roads to Askern.
There were six Despatch Riders. We rode behind the convoy commander’s car.
He was reading the map for directions and when we were approaching a road junction he would signal for a Despatch Rider to go forward and instruct the rider to direct the convoy in the direction he had given.
He did this at every junction. Later, when we were out in the country lanes, I was sent forward to take the next right hand turn. (My motorcycle had a faulty dynamo and the lights had gone out).
As I went forward to take my picket point I could not see the road but I could see the telegraph poles in the skyline so I followed these.
Soon afterwards I fell into a ditch.
(The telegraph poles went across a field and the road went around the field).
Anyway I managed to pull the motorcycle out of the ditch and carry on to my picket point.
We arrived safely at Askern and the mobile canteen served a lovely meal.
It was a very interesting night out.
In the early forties our Scout Group, the 16th Doncaster, and the Girl Guide Group formed a concert party and gave a concert at the Royal Cinema on Sunday nights and at various church halls in the district.
We were joined by local dance schools and one Sunday night at the Royal we also had The Shaw Twins, Doreen and Betty (no relation) playing and singing.
They played the drums and piano accordion.
The first night at the Royal I looked through the curtains before the start and all I could see was a mass of faces.
Every seat was full and there were people standing in the aisles.
They had all come to see us.
The night was a success and all the profits went to the local war weapons week Spitfire fund and the local mobile canteen fund.
As the Royal Cinema was once the local jail the stage was over that part with stairs from the stage to the dressing rooms, which were the old cells.
I worked with my father and uncles in the family business.
My father was a Blacksmith and Farrier.
One of the jobs I was given to do was to go to the Parish Church and measure up to make two iron ladders which were to be used to deal with incendiary bombs if any were dropped.
I made and fitted them and they were taken down after the war.
A few years ago I walked around the churchyard and leaning up on the wall next to what used to be Sutton’s farm was one of the ladders I had made.
After sixty years it was still there.

(Copyright: this newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its entirety without the permission of Mexborough & District Heritage Society.)